Becoming A Catholic

Many different things can act as a catalyst, bringing people to the Catholic ‘door’ searching for answers into ones’ own spirituality or perhaps simple curiosity spurred on by something missing in ones’ life.

Life experiences may start the search but it is usually an encounter with a Catholic that brings someone to ask “What is Catholicism all about?”

This encounter is not an instantaneous thing. It is a progressive entry into a relationship and commitment to both God through Jesus Christ and God’s creation – a conversion to the living God, a commitment in faith to Christ as Lord which is progressive and cumulative leading to mission. Faith grows and matures over a period of time. A person engaged in this process is called a Catechumen.

There is never any pressure to continue at any point of the process. It is a time of prayer, sharing and reflection. It offers the opportunity to explore questions and concerns. Sessions are designed to provide accurate information with no strings attached so that myths and misconceptions can be laid to rest. Ordinarily the process takes at least one liturgical cycle, that is 12 months, culminating in reception of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. This length of time is not so that one can ‘learn all doctrine’ although doctrine is one part but to acquire values and a way of living. It takes 12 months to hear the teachings of Jesus Christ in one cycle of the liturgical calendar. This ‘becoming’ takes a lifetime.

The process, comprising periods and rituals, by which a person comes into the Catholic Church is called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

This is not a private or individual experience as the whole community exercises its responsibility through various ministries: Bishop, priests, deacons, catechists, godparents and sponsors, and all members who pray and apprentice the newcomer in the catholic way of life. One is never alone but  supported by a loving, prayerful community.

If you are interested or curious, please contact the office of your local parish so that the community can share their faith with you and apprentice you in prayer and service, and the life and mission of the Catholic Church. You are welcome to begin attending Mass at your local Catholic Church whenever you wish, though you would not yet be able to receive Holy Communion.

You could speak with the priest after mass but they are often busy at this time and unable to take down details. Why not introduce yourself, saying you will ring during the week.

You will be appointed a sponsor

The sponsor’s role is that of a mentor. Unlike a catechist, a sponsor shares his or her own experience and beliefs in the course of companioning the Catechumen. Sponsors offer counsel, encouragement, guidance and honest feedback. The sponsor extends the spiritual care of the community beyond the weekly sessions by extending simple acts of hospitality – a coffee when the Catechumen can ask questions afraid to raise within the group, or an invitation to a social or event when they will introduce the Catechumen to various members of the community. The sponsor can offer spiritual support by praying for and with the Catechumen.

Sr Mary Louise Walsh ISSM
51 – 59 Allawah Street,
Blacktown NSW 2148
Ph: 02 8838 3457 | Email: mlwalsh@parra.catholic.org.au

The Catholic Enquiry Centre is the national faith outreach of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Its purpose is to reach out beyond the Church to offer an invitation to those who are not Catholic to learn about and understand all aspects of the Catholic religion.

Click here to find out more: http://www.catholicenquiry.com/

What is the RCIA
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?


The RCIA is primarily intended for those who are unbaptised and preparing to receive the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

It is the inspiration and the structure of how a community ministers to someone who sets out on the path to adult initiation (and children of catechetical age) in the Catholic Church.

There are four major periods in the initiation process, separated by various liturgical rituals, which express and celebrate what is occurring at each stage in the process.

The four major periods in the initiation process


Period of Evangelisation and Pre-Catechumenate

This is not only an essential Christian response to an enquirer, but is a basic characteristic of the whole journey to the sacraments. We believe in a God who welcomes, loves and accepts people. Therefore we are bound to do the same. Welcome involves a deep respect for each man and woman as they are. It also means according them their true value. It respects what they are and all the experiences they bring with them. Therefore the Pre-catechumenate, the first period, is one of story-telling – getting to know who we each are – non-christian, Christian and catechised, Christian and not catechised and the catholic story. In this way the enquirer is the first consideration in the process. Relationships are a vital means of proclaiming the gospel of God’s love. At the heart of the process of welcome is the ministry of lay people who accompany newcomers into faith, after all, the catholic community is made up of ordinary men and women “like ourselves”.

First step – Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens

Reaching the point of initial conversion and wishing to become Christians, the Enquirers are accepted as Catechumens by the Church. “Assembling for the first time in public, the Enquirers who have completed the period of the Pre-catechumenate declare their intention to the Church and the Church in turn carrying out its apostolic mission, accepts them as persons who intend to become its members.”

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“The prerequisite for making this first step is that the beginnings of the spiritual life and the fundamentals of Christian teaching have taken root in the candidates. Thus there must be evidence of the first faith that was conceived during the Period of Evangelisation and Precatechumenate and of an initial conversion and intention to change their lives and to enter into a relationship with God in Christ.”

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Period of Catechumenate

This stage is intended for formation; in its most holistic and integral sense – doctrinal, moral, social, spiritual growth. Regular rituals support and carry it forward at appropriate intervals. As much of the catechesis or teaching takes place in this period, it presumes an initial conversion and a commitment to the RCIA process. This is the longest period in the process and takes as long as it needs to take for formation into the Catholic way of life. It is a time of instruction in Christian doctrine, a time for association with Christians in their way of life, a time for sharing in public worship and private prayer, especially celebrations of the Word, and a time for engaging in Christian service along with others in the community. In short it is a time for experiencing the Christian way of life by involvement with the Church community in all of its activities. “The Catechumenate is an extended period during which the Catechumens are given suitable pastoral formation and guidance, aimed at training them in the Christian life. In this way, the dispositions manifested at their acceptance into the Catechumenate are brought to maturity. This is achieved in four ways:

1. A suitable catechesis…accommodated to the liturgical year. This catechesis leads the Catechumens not only to an appropriate acquaintance with dogmas and precepts but also to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation in which they desire to participate.

2. By the example of the community… the Catechumens learn to turn more readily to God in prayer, bear witness….. Thus formed, “the newly converted set out on a spiritual journey…. As they pass from the old to a new nature made perfect in Christ.”  Ad Gentes 14

3. The Church… helps the catechumens … by means of suitable liturgical rites, which purify the Catechumens little by little.

4. …Catechumens should also learn how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church by the witness of their lives and by professing their faith.”

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This period includes a variety of Rites, including minor exorcisms  which are prayers to overcome the power of sin, and blessings and anointings, seasonal liturgies of the Word and prayer services. The Catechumens also attend the Sunday liturgy with the faithful, preferably to be dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word to engage in prayer and reflection together on the meaning of the Word they have just heard. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is properly celebrated only by the Baptised. 

Second step – Rite of Election

When Catechumens are discerned to be ready for Christian initiation, they are formally called to the sacraments of initiation in the Rite of Election. In this Rite the Church states its intention to Baptise the Catechumens at the Easter Vigil. Its decision is based on a Catechumen’s election by God in whose name the Church acts. There are two actions in the Rite of Election – the testimony of the sponsors and the community as to the Catechumens’ readiness, and the enrollment of names.

“From the day of their election and admission, the catechumens are called “the Elect””

The sacraments of initiation are celebrated during the Easter solemnities, and preparation for these sacraments is part of the distinctive character of Lent.  Accordingly the rite of election should normally take place on the First Sunday of Lent and the period of final preparation of the Elect should coincide with the Lenten season.

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Period of Purification and Enlightenment

This third period is basically a time of retreat, a period of intense spiritual preparation for the reception of the sacraments. The Elect will not “know it all” but then… neither do we. This is not a period for cramming but a period of preparation to receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.

“The celebration of certain rites, particularly the scrutinizes and the presentations brings about this process of purification and enlightenment and extends it over the course of the entire Lenten season.”

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This period is accompanied by several special Rites, including the Scrutinies which are celebrated at Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent.

These Rites are prayers of the whole congregation to assist the elect in strengthening what is upright and holy in their lives and overcoming what is weak and sinful.

There are also two presentations in this period, when the Elect are given the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Holy Saturday is also spent in preparation rites.

Third step – Easter Vigil and the reception of the initiation sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, Confirmation

The process culminates at the Easter Vigil with the celebration of the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist for the first time.

After the lighting of the Easter fire and the paschal candle, the community listens to a lengthy series of readings which recount the history of God’s people and also remind us of many symbols of Baptism and God’s promises of salvation and new life.

Following this Liturgy of the Word, the Elect renounce Satan and profess their faith. Then they are baptised, clothed in a white garment and given a Baptismal candle, the high point being the washing and the invocation of the Trinity. They are then Confirmed and take their place among the faithful, leading the Prayer of the Faithful and presenting the bread and wine for the Eucharist. They then share in Communion for the first time.

Period of Mystagogy (Post-baptismal catechesis)

Following the celebration of the sacraments at the Easter vigil, these new members are known as Neophytes or ‘new comers’ and they enter the period of Mystagogy when the mysteries of the experience and the sacraments are unpacked.  

Fourth step – Mass with the Bishop in the Cathedral at the end of Easter Season followed by liturgy each Sunday

The period of Mystagogy concludes with a celebration around Pentecost with the Bishop in the Cathedral. Sunday liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist is the repeatable initiation ritual which continually urges us to renew our lives through hearing the Word and receiving Christ in the Eucharist.

Each year the Baptised come together to celebrate the anniversary of their Baptism at the Easter Vigil when we renounce Satan and profess our belief through the Creed.  


I am already baptised,
how do I become Catholic?


“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4.

The Church does not want to place unnecessary obstacles or burdens in anyone’s path to becoming Catholic. The Church, though, does want to help a Christian enquirer to deepen their faith and offer a thorough understanding and appreciation of Catholic beliefs and practice.

The catechesis and formation in preparation for being received into the Catholic Church by receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist for the first time will depend on one’s background and what might be needed to live a full and active Catholic life. While Christians hold many fundamental beliefs in common, many Catholic doctrines and traditions are not shared by all.

This does take time but does not need to be protracted and a Christian can be initiated when they and the parish community discern an understanding of the fundamental beliefs and traditions of Catholicism.

If you are interested or curious, please contact the office of your local parish so that the community can share their faith with you and apprentice you in the prayer and service, and the life and mission of the Catholic Church.   You could speak with the priest after Mass but they are often busy at this time and unable to take down details. Why not introduce yourself, saying you will ring during the week.

Will I be baptised again in the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church respects the Baptism of anyone who was baptised with flowing water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the sacrament of our rebirth in Christ and our immersion into his saving death and resurrection and therefore cannot be repeated. Once we have been claimed by Christ in Baptism, we are forever marked as sons and daughters of God.

What is involved in the reception into the Catholic Church of someone who is baptised?

After sufficient preparation through catechesis, prayer and worship, and an introduction to Catholic life, values and mission, a Christian is asked to make a profession of faith, and to express their acceptance of Catholic teaching and to make a clear intention to live as a Catholic.  Following this affirmation, the Christian is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation and will receive Holy Communion at the table of the Eucharist.  This ritual is called the Rite of Reception of Baptised Christians into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Terminology guide

Catechism

The Catechism is divided into four movements that are distinct, self-contained units – Profession of Faith, Sacraments, Moral Life, Prayer but which are intrinsically connected to one another. Within these movements, various major and minor themes are developed. These are the different beliefs the Church has about God, Jesus Christ, Baptism, the Eucharist, human dignity, sin, contemplation, and the vision of God, to name just a few. Together these beliefs form a symphony of faith, a harmonious whole.

The thing to remember is that all four movements are intrinsically connected to one another, because in reality we experience them as intrinsically connected together in our lives. Believing the Creed [Profession of Faith] is inextricably bound up with our participation in the liturgy [Sacraments], which means also learning to pray [Prayer], which to be authentic means learning to live like Christ [Moral Life].

Catechumen

One under instruction. In the Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults, one who is preparing for Baptism. Catechumens are entitled to some of the same rights as the Baptised, for example having the right to a Catholic funeral in the event of death.

Doctrine

The collection of teaching of a particular denomination or Church. The doctrines [teachings] of the Church presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church communicate the Church’s understanding of the truths about the innermost being of God, chosen to share with us and teach us.

The doctrines of the Church are not abstract propositions or academic definitions, but privileged ways of encountering the personal reality of God which have been revealed through God’s glorious manifestations and teachings in salvation history.

Dogmas

Are divinely revealed truths, proclaimed as such by the infallible teaching authority of the church and hence binding now and forever on all the faithful. Dogmas are not abstract, dry-as-dust, theological definitions but divinely revealed truths that put us in touch with the personal reality, truth, beauty and goodness of God.

‘There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas.  Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith. (CCC, 89).

The uniqueness of Christian spiritual experience, derives from three divinely revealed truths –the dogma of the Most Holy Trinity, the dogma of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and the dogma of the Mission of the Holy Spirit.


Diocesan Co-ordinator


Sr Mary Louise Walsh ISSM
51 – 59 Allawah Street,
Blacktown NSW 2148
Ph: 02 8838 3457 | Em: mlwalsh@parra.catholic.org.au